March 15, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State men's basketball team met with the media Thursday at Nationwide Arena prior to Friday's second-round game against LIU Brooklyn. Student-athletes Keith Appling, Draymond Green and Austin Thornton, and head coach Tom Izzo appeared in the media interview room.
Q. Draymond, I wanted to see if you can talk about Julian Boyd and what you've seen from him and preparing for him, and what kind of matchup that will be for you.
Draymond Green: Well, he's very athletic, runs the floor very well. He's very crafty with the ball. He can also shoot. One thing I really noticed about him was how he get out on their break. Sometimes he leaks out.
So I think on the offensive boards we may be able to do some damage. But for the most part with him I think he's very versatile and a big key to what they do with their offense.
Q. Draymond, can you talk about being in a region with so many undersized teams, Marquette, Missouri, Florida and the advantages of that, being a physical team, and maybe some of the disadvantages of that as well?
Draymond Green: I think the advantages is everything's almost similar. So where some nights in the NCAA Tournament you may go from playing against somebody who just may run a Princeton style offense and then the next night to maybe playing someone who hardly runs any offense or just run all motion or they really run and gun for the most part. I think those all will have their advantages, but at the end of the day you still have to be prepared for everything.
I think a lot of people are talking about Memphis and a second round game possibly with us and Memphis. But LIU is a tough team and Saint Louis is a very good team who is completely different from Memphis. They're the complete opposite, where Memphis run and gun, very scrappy, and Saint Louis running a lot of plays.
So I think for the most part having the type of teams we have where it's a lot of athletes and everybody trying to run and gun and get up and down and the smaller size with all the teams can be to an advantage, but at the end of the day you still have to be ready to prepare for anything.
Q. Austin, you and Day Day have been to Final Fours, you know what it's like, you know what it takes to get there. This week have you been talking to the younger players who don't know what it takes and then maybe giving them some leadership? And then as a follow up, Draymond, will you answer it too, please?
Austin Thornton: Yeah, one thing that we've done this week is just really have the guys focus in. It was really special for us to go ahead and grab the No. 1 seed like we were last Sunday, but we have to explain there's a lot of distractions that come with the this tournament.
So really trying to keep them grounded and focused and make them understand it's one game at a time. We don't want to be that first No. 1 seed to get upset by a 16 seed, so we're not taking anybody lightly. We're going to be ready and prepared to play LIU.
Draymond Green: As Austin said, it's most important to make sure the younger guys understand that you have to take one game at a time. In this tournament anybody can get hot on any night.
And the thing Coach always talks about where upsets happen is free throw shooting and 3 point shooting. And you look at LIU, they shot 441 more free than their opponents. I think they've made 441 or some crazy number where -- that's where you can't get upset.
So we really have to take this game very seriously, and that's one thing that we've been talking to the younger guys about, just make sure everybody's focused in and understands that this is a serious game and it's not just going to be a walk through the park, we have to come up and take the game.
Q. Keith, guard play is magnified in the NCAA Tournament play. Can you talk about your responsibility and avoiding turnovers and how important it's going to be for you and this team?
Keith Appling: We're going to have to value each and every possession, because now is the time of year where one turnover can cost you -- can cost you the game. So we're just going to have to value each and every possession and play as hard as we possibly can for 40 minutes.
Q. Keith and you, Draymond, LIU's coach said Sunday night and Monday to one radio station in New York and to a couple of other reporters that you guys didn't run, didn't push the ball, and then he studied film for a couple days and changed his mind. He actually told me yesterday he was kind of surprised that you did. So specifically he was impressed with Keith pushing the ball. What is, though -- I mean, he had that idea, had that perception to begin with. Why is that? Why do people think you don't push the ball when you obviously do?
Draymond Green: I think, like I said to y'all the other day, a lot of teams always talk about how they run and gun, and I look at them like they really don't run like they say they do. And I look at the opportunities when I'm watching the other games, like if we would have got that ball right there, we would have pushed that so fast.
But I think the main reason why people think we don't run is because we can play a half court game and we can play a full court game. We have a lot of sets. So I think people kind of get screwed up with that when they see us having -- running a lot of sets, and we run our sets very sharp. They kind of think, oh, they're just a slow it down team. They slow it down and they run their offense.
But we push the ball as well. If you're thinking and you already have that mindset that they really don't run and they just slow it down to run offense, then I can understand why you would think that, because when you have the advantage to play a half court game or a full court game, people can come away with any different perception.
And they could have been watching the game where the game was slowed down and we had to play a half court game in that game and then they come away with that perception.
But as you watch more and more film, you'll see we run more.
Q. Keith, Izzo always talks about experience in the tournament, and obviously last year you gained it. How are you different this year as far as preparing maybe from what you learned from last year maybe when you didn't have the experience?
Keith Appling: We wasn't in the tournament very long last year. But I was fortunate to have guys like Draymond and Austin talk me through it, and I know pretty much all the ins and outs of the tournament.
And at the end of the day, we just have to play hard and remain focused throughout.
Q. Draymond, the Big Ten was so tough this year. And you guys played probably the most challenging schedule in the country, including a road game at Gonzaga. How much do you think that prepares you guys for this tournament setting?
Draymond Green: I think it definitely prepares us. One thing Coach Izzo always does, he schedules one of the toughest schedules in the nation. That's nonconference playing against North Carolina, Duke, on the road at Gonzaga, all those different games, and then you get into the conference, and the conference is as tough as it was this year. I think that only helps prepare us more and more for games like this in the NCAA Tournament games.
And that's the main reason Coach always scheduled the schedule like he does. He always tell us: I'm not breaking a Coach K record, I'm not breaking a Jim Boeheim record, so there's no reason for me to play a bunch of games that we know we're going to come out and win by 30. I want to play some games where we're going to get some experience in and going to help us down the line in the NCAA Tournament, in the Big Ten Tournament.
So I think when everyone always questions the schedule that we play every year, why Coach Izzo play them games, when it comes around to the tournament, everybody can figure out why he always played that schedule, because once we pretty much get to the tournament, it's really nothing that we haven't seen. We seen the size of North Carolina. We've seen all types of teams in the Big Ten.
So you're going to play teams that rush similar type of games, and I think we've already been seeing all the types of games because of the schedule that we play throughout the year.
Q. Over at the Big Ten you won the MVP of the tournament, yet there was a couple times where you talked about yourself struggling. I thought after a couple of days of reflection, can you reflect how you played over there and how you need to play going into the NCAA Tournament now as a senior?
Draymond Green: I think I have to play better. I mean, I struggle. I still play decent, but for what I expect of myself, I know I struggled a lot. So I think I have to play a lot better coming into the NCAA Tournament.
Thanks to these guys up here and different guys in our locker room, they did step up, and the Big Ten, for us to be able to win the Big Ten Championship. Everybody looks at my stats and said did he think he struggled or -- you know, they won a Big Ten championship, so he didn't struggle.
But you take those wins back and put some losses in that win/loss column, and everybody will have under a microscope how I struggled.
So it all still boils down to wins and losses. If you win a game, everything's fine; lose a game, it goes the other way.
I have to thank everyone because they were the reason I was able to persevere through my struggles and we were able to get wins.
Q. Austin, Big Ten Tournament there was that Wisconsin game where Draymond was struggling, seemed like it took time for you to get things going. How do you avoid that, that everyone is contributing even if Draymond doesn't get off to a good start?
Austin Thornton: I think that was a good experience for us to go through where we were a little bit lethargic in that Wisconsin game, and some guys stepped up made some plays to get us going and we were able to put the game away.
Hope it's a one time experience and doesn't happen in this tournament. Because it's magnified quite a bit in the NCAA Tournament. So we'll do our best to make sure guys are focused in and locked in and we play 100 percent from the get go.
Q. Austin, you've been a role player for three years and this year you've really emerged to where you've won them games, become a critical player, comfortable in your skin. Would you talk about your role and how you've emerged this year and you're extremely comfortable with it?
Austin Thornton: I have to give enormous amount of credit to my coaching staff and my teammates, because even about ten games in or so I still wasn't playing quite as well as what I wanted, what was kind of expected of me.
Then it finally started to click, and so give them credit for sticking with me and understanding that all the work would pay off. The open gyms and all the stuff that we went through together, they saw that I could play and shots were eventually going to go down. So really thank them a lot for sticking with me and making it a fun ride for me.
Q. It seems like a lot of what I read talks -- references the chemistry on this team. It seems like it's something that you point to as a reason for success. Can you compare what's different this year in terms of that compared to last year?
Draymond Green: One of the main things is for the majority part of this season is we haven't had many injuries. Even coming through the summer, throughout the summer we were able to play together the entire summer. So we got a better feel for each other.
Everybody was in lifts together early morning, everybody did the conditioning. So we were always able to bind together and have more time to bind together as opposed to last year we hardly had any open gyms. We were conditioning with eight players.
Just the different things that went up into it, leading up into the season, all those things help you grow more and more together. And this year we were all in the grind together. And when you are grinding together, blood, sweat and tears, as we say, you gain a different respect level for each other.
And I think that was one of the best things that happened to this team was no team wants to go through injuries. And for the most part we were healthy. I mean, we just lost B.J. a few weeks ago, but he went through everything with us, so everybody was able to go through everything, and I think that helped us grow more and more. We got to know each other a lot more. And just being together, most importantly, I think that was the main thing.
Q. Number one, when she asked you that, each one of you was kind of smiling like you know something?
Austin Thornton: Well, it was funny -- we did all kind of laugh because we were instructed not to talk about last year. That's why it was kind of funny for us.
Q. Who instructed you not to talk about that?
Austin Thornton: It was just because last year was last year, and this year is this year. We're a new team in a lot of aspects really with a lot of different guys. We've got six new guys on the team this year. And with Brandon Wood, so it's pretty much a new team anyway.
So a lot of things in the last couple of years, especially even last year, just guys had minds elsewhere. It wasn't entirely focused on the success of this program, and that's what is different and what's special about this year's team, everyone bought in and understands what's best for them is what's best for this program and is what's led to the success we had this year.
Q. Draymond, you've always come across to me as like a natural born leader and somebody who wants to lead. So did you get resistance? Because you were named a captain early in your career. Did you get resistance from others when you tried to lead in the past, not this year?
Draymond Green: I mean, I was so young as a sophomore being named captain, and you got -- there was probably -- even though I was a sophomore, I was the youngest sophomore on our team. And you probably had nine or ten guys who -- yeah, about nine or ten guys older than me.
If you're a guy who has been to a Sweet 16, you know, you've been to a couple of Sweet 16s, anybody would struggle listening to someone who has less experience than them.
I think that all grows with time, grows with trust. But for the most part I think that was the main reason that it was a struggle to lead as young as I was, because I just didn't have the experience.
I played in the Final Four, probably played somewhere in the teens. So I was a key part to that team, but it wasn't like maybe they couldn't -- they probably could have still made the same run without me.
So it was just a matter of having more experience, and I think that was the main thing, there were so many guys who had won awards, done this or that, contributed on so many levels to the point where I'd know how to lead myself, I've done it all, as opposed to listen to a guy who hasn't really went through a lot of things in his career.
Q. Day Day, you heard me mention his first three years Austin was a role player. This year not only emerged as a leader, but a critical player. You believed in him. When he became a captain, you talked about him being a leader and emerged. Can you talk about your friendship and how you've watched him emerge and grow? Because you've been his biggest fan.
Draymond Green: Friendship is one that will last a lifetime. I've known Austin before coming to college. We played AAU together, and there was just -- it's just like a storybook ending type thing for us. We've really grown together and we're even both coming into Michigan State with no expectations. No one expected Austin to play and no one expected me to do be doing what I'm doing.
So we just relate to each other so well. I've had times where I struggled in my career, I had times when I didn't play in my career and he went through the same thing.
The one thing about Austin is, even you didn't really see it this year until lately, the type of leader that he is. He's been doing that for years. And he's going through some of the things I went through. Didn't have much experience, didn't play a lot. But always has good advice, always know the right thing to say. Has a good feel for everybody, has a good pulse for the team. But how do you listen to a guy who hasn't really played, who hasn't really proved much?
And I think that's where we relate so much. Because I think we both already -- one thing I always talked to Austin about is how well mannered his son is.
And it just goes to show the way he was brought up. So you can just tell, it's always been in him to be the type of leader that he is this year. It's just a matter of getting an opportunity. And that's what everything is about, getting an opportunity to play. Jeremy Lin got an opportunity to play.
I think that's the same type of deal with Austin. He's got his opportunity to lead. He's got his opportunity to play, and it's finally showing to everyone else what I've always seen. So I've always -- guys used to ask me why is Austin still playing? Why is he on the floor? I told them he makes every shot in practice. It's going to click. Sometimes it works like that. Shots just won't fall. Now everyone is wondering where Austin has been, he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. So I think we've just grown so much together over the years and we've had some similar type situations which has just made our friendship even stronger.
Q. Austin, you lose Branden Dawson and you're in this region with a lot of similar players, athletic guys, how does this change this team defensively, that injury?
Austin Thornton: You don't just replace a guy like Branden Dawson with what he brought to the table, a very young talented freshman with his athleticism, his size, and his strength.
So what it boils down to is other guys will have to step up in different areas, and so far we were able to have kind of a prelude to the that with the Big Ten Tournament where Brandan Kearney did a great job, Russell Byrd did a great job of coming in and making plays when they needed to, and not doing anything spectacular, but just making plays and being solid and really helping us, helping our team win.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by head coach Tom Izzo. Coach, an opening remark.
COACH IZZO: Did you ever see the Bose commercial where the guy's sitting in the chair and the sound comes on and the guy's back like this? That's the way you guys look like after Draymond's press conference. Just kind of took into my time. I'm a little mad at him, probably cost him some minutes.
But I just -- I'm ecstatic to be here. I think we've kind of progressed as the year's gone. Gotten better almost each and every day, almost each and every game. I think of the setbacks we've had and we've had a few. I can honestly say that I think we made progress at least each and every week. If one game we didn't, by the end of that week we did it in another game.
And that's what's been special. It's been a fun team to be around and it's a team that doesn't have as much margin for error as some that I've had.
But it has the chemistry and camaraderie that I think makes teams special. So I'm just happy to be here. I think LIU is more than a formidable foe. I watched them against North Carolina last year and I have seen players like Boyd and -- I have trouble saying -- Olasewere, but those guys are the Player of the Year and Runner Up Player of the Year, and Brickman is a very, very good point guard.
So we're doing something that you normally don't do with a 1 - 16. You're playing a team that's won their league three times and been to the tournament before and played a team like North Carolina, so I know they're going to be ready to play.
And I'll take questions.
Q. Draymond just a few minutes ago had some pretty candid comments about Austin's development. And Austin talked about how grateful he is that you guys stuck with him. Can you talk about maybe what took him a while to make a statement with his play? COACH IZZO: Well, Austin, as we all know, came in a preferred walk on because he wanted to be at Michigan State. And he had some injuries early that slowed him.
I think if there's a negative with Austin Thornton is he's been such a good shooter in practice and hasn't shot as well in games. That's slowed his development.
Then his third year, after he got pretty injury free he gained about 15, 20 pounds on purpose, because he thought we'd have to play him more at the 4 spot, just have a stretch 4 man even though he was undersized. He went to be strong and physical. Yet it slowed him down and defensively he struggled.
And last summer he just got himself back in the greatest shape. And, again, the weight he gained was on purpose. Not for being lazy. But he really spent time in the gym last summer. I mean, hours and hours and hours. And I think he just got some of that confidence back. And after a little bit of a slow start, once he did -- and I think this team knew we needed him, especially when Delvon went down and everything, or went out, Day Day helps them because they're good friends.
Day Day's the most confident human being in America, so that helps him a little bit. And the guy just kept getting better and better and all of a sudden his defense is better and he made some great strides. He's had this migraine headache problem for a month. And that's the only negative because sometimes games or practice he's really sucking it up, but other than that he's been good, real good.
Q. You talked about the special camaraderie and chemistry of this team. When did you see that becoming evident this season? And does this group remind you of your 2000 team?
COACH IZZO: It's not as talented as my 2000 team, to be honest with you. But the chemistry, you know, where did it start? We're all disappointed in how last year ended for a variety of reasons. I think Nix started it.
In April he decided: I'm going to lose this weight. I'm going to get myself in shape. He worked so diligently for a couple of months. And then in May, end of April, May, we named Draymond and Austin our captains, and they took it serious. The Mateen Cleaveses, the Magic Johnsons, the Steve Smiths all talked to those guys about what you got to be. And then Draymond had a dream to make the U.S.A. Team and worked very hard to do that. Nix kept progressing with his. We stayed pretty much injury free. The summer before we had six major surgeries and that dampened things a bit.
And I think when school started, I said it best last week, I'm sitting there getting ready for a 9:00 walkthrough the night before a Ohio State game, and I'm writing stuff up and these guys walked into the ballroom where we had a court and they were down in the corner, just screwing around.
And I told my one assistant they're acting like a bunch of four year olds. Isn't that great? And I think that kind of speaks volumes for what this team is. They're just a bunch of guys that get along, have a tremendous leader, and now we've become a better basketball team.
Q. Tom, can you talk about losing Branden Dawson and how that affects this team, especially defensively, with all the athletes that are in this region?
COACH IZZO: To me you've read that right. I think there's athletes all over, but I think this is one of the more athletic regions, and Branden Dawson is one of those 6'6", 225 pound not only athletes but strong, got so much better defensively. He can match up with a lot of different people. With him he can guard a variety of people. And we're going to miss him.
There's no question. That doesn't mean we can't be successful, but I think the one thing he brought is the NCAA Tournament is about matchups. It always has been. You wonder an average team can beat a top notch team. It's just who matches up with who.
And with a Branden Dawson, we didn't have to worry about matchups, because we were versatile enough to do a lot of different things. Now we're pretty much the old school teams. We've got our perimeter guys and we've got our inside guys and we're maybe missing that one guy that could do that, could swing a lot of different ways.
So we're going to miss him, and he's going to be a great player here, I really believe that. But we're going to have to do other things that we can do maybe shoot it a little better, maybe just work around it in some way, shape, or form. And some guys have to step up. And Brandon Wood has. He's become a better defensive player.
Sometimes it's just about putting your mind to it. I think when you lose somebody you put your mind to other things.
Q. Draymond was named a captain as a sophomore. How much resistance do you think he got just because of the age thing; he didn't have the seniority? I always thought, gosh, as a senior he's going to be awesome, but I always wondered the previous two years if he was getting resistance as a leader.
COACH IZZO: Well, I think you automatically do if you have great players ahead of you. If you've got one of those teams maybe like Kentucky, where there's freshmen and you can get a freshman or sophomore to be the leader because you don't have as many juniors and seniors, that's one thing. But when you have guys who have been in the program, been to Final Fours, I don't know if you've got resistance as much as sometimes he resisted using his authority, because he was the vocal guy. He was no matter what.
Since we lost Travis Walton, which was after his freshman year, he was the vocal guy. And I guess a little bit I guess maybe he didn't step up or felt like he should step on someone else's toes. Which isn't really Draymond's MO; he doesn't mind stepping on anybody's toes. But I think it was a little bit of that, and I'm sure there was a little resistance. That's pretty normal on all athletic teams.
Q. Tom, it sounds a little crazy because Draymond was named Most Valuable Player in the tournament last week. But in his own words he talked about how he struggled a bit with his play over in Indy. I was wondering what you saw from him in the tournament and what you need from him going into this one.
COACH IZZO: Well, we all have negatives. Heaven knows I do. Some of the things is Draymond lets things get to him, a call here or something there. And he's grown so much from when he was a freshman or sophomore. But I thought some of that bothered him a little bit. You have to give Ohio State credit. I think they did some of it in how they played them.
But we're still looking at a guy that had 12 points and nine rebounds and took three charges and directed our defense. And I don't know what he had, four, five assists.
We don't realize Draymond does things in a lot of ways. So struggling as a scorer, I think that's what we usually rate people as. Boy, in crunch time down the stretch he got some big time rebounds. He really helped out off of his man on Sullinger one time, and he missed an easy shot, and I think it was because Draymond was in his way.
You've got to add up all the little things he does, and when you add those up I do think there's some great players in the league. I do think he was worthy of the award because he does more than just score or rebound.
Q. Way back in October you said that this would be a fun team to watch. I think in 17 years I never heard you use that word in a preseason press conference. Fans and media would probably not have used that word, but it turned out that way. What did you see then that it would be a fun team to watch this season, way back when?
COACH IZZO: That's a good question. I don't know. It's just something a coach sees. I just felt like we were going to -- I love the freshmen we brought in. I loved every one of them. I thought that they were all great players, but I thought they could all do some things, they spent a lot of time together.
I love seeing what Nix has done. I thought Payne -- we forget about Adreian. He was out more or less a lot of that first year with that shoulder where he couldn't do the things to get better, like a Russell Byrd has gone through this year.
Rookies just don't regroup from injuries that are four , five , six month injuries like veterans can, but I just saw glimpses of those things, and I really felt that Nix was going to keep the weight off this time.
I said one of my favorite stories is we put a new scoreboard in, put a new ring around our arena, and we were down there looking at it in early September, and the guy working on it was trying to make everything in sync, said -- and Nix walked by, and he said, well, this guy has been in here at midnight working out when we've been trying to calibrate this thing. And I looked at Nix. That was a feel good story for me. It was a dumb little point, but I think it was a point that showed you he wasn't doing it just in front of people, he was doing it when no one was watching. That's why I thought it would be a fun and interesting team.
If I was being honest, did I think it would get to this point? Not really. I didn't think. I didn't think that we'd get all those parts together. But they've all kind of fit in.
Brandon Wood was a great kid but had to learn how to do some things, started to get better. Just everybody added something. Brandan Kearney, a lot of people talked about us redshirting him. I even briefly thought about it. But he's giving us some big minutes in the last month. So just a collection of guys that I felt were going to work hard and got along well.
Q. I know with the season you've had there are bigger goals, but this is 15 straight NCAA Tournaments. When you show up for the first round, do you think back ever to '96 and '97 when you were fighting for this point and recognize that?
COACH IZZO: Often. Often. I think back that's what's so great about it. I appreciate that it was a struggle, or I appreciate how exciting it was to be in that first time or preparing for Eastern Michigan and then Princeton. I remember it like it was yesterday.
But it's been a heck of a run, a lot of good players and a lot of good assistants. But it's a run. We're in a society. It's what did you do for me today.
So I can think about those when I'm done coaching, whatever years that is from now. I'll probably think about it more. But right now I'm just kind of setting my sights on seeing if we can win one more game, one more game, one more game, and if we can do that, we can make an incredible season into a magical one.
Q. Obviously your fans travel very well. Not a huge trip for them. But this is Buckeye country, a lot of the neutral fans might be pulling against you. What do you expect in terms of the environment here in Columbus?
COACH IZZO: Remember, we're not in Ann Arbor and we're not Michigan. We're Michigan State. We have a decent relationship with the Buckeyes. And we've had some good wars with them. But it's I think a pretty clean rivalry.
And I went for a little walk today, and a lot of those people in that funny looking red were all good to me. I don't think it will be as brutal as you think.
I really believe that one thing about our league and the coaches in this league right now, I think everybody's kind of pulling for everybody in the league. And I'm not begging for fans. I got enough of them.
But I don't think it's a hated rivalry either. I think it's been a good rivalry that I remember we played in the Final Four in St. Louis. The Illinois fans and our fans cheered for each other.
So I'm pulling for Ohio State in Pittsburgh, and so if the Buckeye fans want to wear their red and pull for Michigan State, I'd be happy as hell.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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